[Victoria Fringe Festival ’13] St. Michael’s University Summer Musical Academy does Avenue Q & Review

1 Sep

Image-AvenueQlogoBy Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

In Victoria, B.C., Canada, St. Michael’s University School offers a tradition for Fringe Festival enthusiasts to enjoy. They have a wonderful summer intensive program in musical theatre which makes it a hotbed of learning at a rapid pace. Classes focus on teaching students how to develop their voice, stage presence and performance skills. No auditions are required to get in and this camp is great for introducing youths to the thrills of live theatre.

This program makes use of a well-known Broadway stage production and it becomes part of the regular Fringe Festival scene. Previous years included a very well done version of The Wedding Singer, Urinetown, Fame and High School Musical.

“They have been doing a musical every year in the Fringe for the last eight years,” said Janet Munsil, Artistic Director and Festival Producer, “And they’re the trailblazers in musicals at our 10-day long show.”

One particular alumni from the university, Andrew Sabiston, has gone on to write, Napoleon: The Musical, which was staged in Toronto.

Avenue Q! is this year’s production and after three shows in, the style certainly comes through as unique. The students swap roles, and the afternoon show is no doubt going to be different from the evening show (which was seen for this review).

Audiences familiar with the Broadway play may want to do a double-take. The original show has some adult themes that may not bode well for a younger audience to hear about or even understand. But fortunately, a sanitized version was created by the original producers so high schools and younger theatre groups can put on their own version of Sesame Street for a post-modern generation. This play still works with real life performers playing all the roles. In the original production, puppets were used and the puppeteers wore black to indicate that they are “invisible” to the audience. A little suspension of belief is required in order to make this theatre production work.

Fringe Festival BookletIn the Fringe Festival version, no puppets are used and the students involved in the production are playing all the key roles themselves. Here, Princeton (Joshua Litton) is a college graduate who appears as a cheery individual, all full of hope, only to get downtrodden with a ‘welcome’ that is opposite to everything he wanted to achieve. Real life, or rather, adult-life, is not like cotton candy. Once when he starts to feel the heat, it melts. Litton’s performance is interesting. He shows a youthful optimism that does not deteriorate as the story moves along.

He even has a little charm that parallels a classic comic book originally printed in the 40’s. Much like Archie Andrews (from Archie Comics fame), he’s drawn to two girls Kate Monster (Sarah Ellmann) as a version of Betty Cooper and Lucy (Natalie Vidal) as Veronica Lodge. There are even times where this play feels like The Honeymooners given the contrasting dispositions the ladies have towards their men, and that includes the very stereotyped Asian character of Christmas Eve (Cindy Kim). High marks have to go the director to putting Kim into this role. Sometimes, just one perfect casting choice makes up for the rest of the product.

Much of this play’s style feels like it belongs to a bygone era than someplace now. But with a few songs being tied to current events like in what Stephen Harper is doing to Canada (as a way to localize this show to the region its playing in), some of these book tunes feels out-of-place. Instead, maybe the show creators and the directors adapting a local version should have made a Depression-era product instead. Having a fixed point of reference makes more sense because more people in the audience could identify because of what they know of the time than guess.

The coming-of-age parable about entering adulthood may not be understood by everyone, and its satirical nature about politics (or even social media) did not come out very strongly in this performance.

Avenue Q

While the musical numbers are good, with familiar staples like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “It Sucks to Be Me” getting cheers from the crowd, there is no standout number from this particular troupe that really shines. One little problem is with the harmonizing with the evening show performers, which is more audible when Monster and Lucy were at odds. Litton’s solo numbers were soul-reaching and it makes up for the bits that were not as solid. The humor is gentler in this version and not as raunchy. For those people who have not seen the original production, this modified version does a reasonable enough job to bring a little bit of Broadway to the humble town of Victoria. Now if only this program can do Grease.

3½ Stars out of 5

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